The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXXI. Non-English Writings I

§ 29. Placide Canonge

The best dramatist produced by Louisiana was Placide Canonge, who wrote between 1839 and 1860. He was educated in New Orleans, and was a frequent visitor in Paris. He was a director of opera and a journalist of some note; he edited La Lorgnette, L’Entr’acte, Courrier, L’Impartial, Le Courrier Français, Le Sud, La Renaissance, L’Epoque, and L’Abeille, the last-named, founded in 1827, being the first French daily newspaper published in the United States. His plays followed the French romantic tradition, and were extremely popular because of their gaiety and enthusiasm. The best known are Qui perd gagne (1849), Le Comte de Carmagnola (1856), Grand d’Espagne, Gaston de Saint-Elme (1840), Le Maudit Passeport (1839), Don Juan ou une histoire sous Charles-Quint (1849), Le Comte de Monte Christo (1848), and L’Ambassadeur d’Autriche.

Canonge shares with Lussan, Dugué, Testut, and others the honour of creating an indigenous drama based on local history and manners. Both he and Lussan treated a famous crisis in colonial history, the Revolution of 1768, in which leading French colonists unsuccessfully opposed the accession of the new Spanish governor and were led to execution. Plays on this and kindred subjects found eager audiences from about 1840 on to the Civil War. In 1836 Charles Gayarré had published his Essai Historique, which was widely read and which led the imaginations of many back to the past. A. Lussan based his play, Les Martyrs de la Louisiane (1839), directly upon the account of the Revolution which Gayarré had so dramatically rendered. The play is conceived somewhat in the spirit of Victor Hugo; it is in verse, in five acts, and is dedicated to the martyrs of 1769. Very little is known of Lussan’s life. Canonge’s play on the Revolution of 1768, France et Espagne (1850), follows history less closely, new romantic characters being introduced to heighten and complicate the effect. It is based not on Gayarré’s book but on a novel, Louisiana, written by Garreau and published in La Revue Louisianaise in 1845. The play is in prose, in four acts.

Oscar Dugué wrote in 1852 a tragedy called Mila ou la Mort de La Salle. The action takes place in Texas, and the chief characters are La Salle, his Indian bride Mila, and their murderous adversary, Liotot. It is not known whether the piece was ever staged. It is a tragedy in the manner of Voltaire, written in regular verse, and furnished with a chorus. The author was born in New Orleans in 1821. He studied in Paris, returning to Louisiana in 1846. He edited L’Orléanais for a while, and for a period was president of Jefferson College, in Saint-Jacques parish. He wrote on other historical drama, Cygne ou Mingo, highly praised in its day. P. Pérennes, whose tragedy in verse, Guatimozin ou le Dernier Jour de l’Empire Mexicain (1859), dealt with the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, claimed to have been inspired to write his play during a sojourn among certain venerable ruins in Mexico; in reality he was only making over the Guatimozin of M. Madrid, which had appeared on the French stage as early as 1828. L’Hermite du Niagara (1842), a mystère by the novelist Alfred Mercier, should be mentioned here. Victor Sejour, the dramatist, though born in Louisiana, does not call for treatment, since he left the United States at an early age.